Judge to decide if Schellenger’s family can give statements at White’s sentencing

Kristen Johanson
December 16, 2019 - 7:42 pm
Michael White walking out of court.

Kristen Johanson/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Attorneys for Michael White — the man acquitted in a fatal stabbing near Rittenhouse Square nearly two years ago — want to prohibit victim impact statements from being read at his sentencing next month. 

But prosecutors are fighting to allow the victim’s family to speak — and it won’t be an easy decision for the judge.

White was convicted of tampering with evidence for tossing the knife used in the 2018 stabbing death of Sean Schellenger, but he was acquitted of voluntary manslaughter.

Former prosecutor-turned-civil attorney Brian Kent — a partner at Laffey, Bucci and Kent — works with sexual assault survivors and families of murdered victims. Kent, who isn’t involved in this case, said Pennsylvania law gives crime victims the right to speak in court.

“The victim has the right to be involved in the written, oral argument that is submitted to the court,” he added. 

But for the judge, it’s not that easy: White’s conviction of tampering with evidence may not be considered to be directly associated to a victim.

“There is an argument to be made on the defendant’s side that there was no ‘victim’ with regards to that crime, and since he was acquitted of the killing itself, there shouldn’t be any victim impact statements that should be read to the court,” Kent noted.

Judges must use prior cases as guidance for how they will rule.

“It’s going to be very difficult to find something directly on point for a court to rule on an exact identical issue like this,” he said. “Just from a human standpoint, I think they are seeking to exclude the victim impact statements because of the weight they can carry with the court.”

Whatever decision is made, Kent said the judge is going to be met with a lot of public outcry.

White’s sentencing was moved to January so he can undergo a mental health evaluation.